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March 19, 2024

Amazing Vintage Photographs From the Spring Fashion Week in Paris, 1951

In 1951, LIFE magazine sent three photographers to Paris during the fashion week and give readers a first look at what might be headed their way. Until the models hit the runways, no one really knew what the designers had been planning. “A new hemline was as carefully guarded in Paris as a barrel of plutonium in the U.S,” LIFE wrote in its cover story for the March 5, 1951 issue.

Some years, the new looks were so different that they pushed last year’s frocks to the back of the closet. The looks in 1951 were more of an evolution. “To the disappointment of an adventuresome few, but to the relief of most of the trade which did not want to cope with anything revolutionary, this showing would not, like the “new look” explosion of 1947, tend to make present wardrobes obsolete,” LIFE wrote. “The new trend, if anything, was conservative.”

The new designs may not have been radical, but they were popular. LIFE reported gangbuster sales, which may have been the real point, as the designers achieved the goal of broadening the type of stores that carried their clothes: “The stately houses, which once preferred to cater to exclusive stores and private clients, were taking increasing interest in the buyers for lower-priced stores.”

LIFE’s photographs, taken by aces Gordon Parks, Nina Leen and N.R. Farbman, capture the excitement of being there. Some pictures highlight the clothes, of course, but others show the frenzy of the business and media folks as they gathered for seven days that could change their world.

Vogue editor Bettina Ballard prepared models for a spring fashion shoot, Paris, February 1951.

This gown was the big finish for a show by Paris newcomer Castillo of Lanvin.

Models showed off five fabulous ball gowns designed by Jacques Fath at a Paris fashion show, 1951.

Two French models showed off evening dresses while surrounded by eager crowd of buyers at Dior fashion show, Paris, 1951.

Buyers and press packed the halls at this Dior showing, Paris 1951.

A spring fashion show, Paris, 1951.

Prepping dresses for the spring fashion show in Paris, February 1951.

These two Dior dresses illustrated his theory of “oval of face, oval of bust, oval of hips,” Paris 1951.

The new spring fashion line, Paris, 1951.

A young woman modeled a green and white striped rain coat designed by Maggy Rouff, Paris, 1951.

A fashion shoot in the Louvre, Paris, 1951.

A new raincoat from designer Pierre Balmain, Paris, 1951.

A Beige wool wrap-around jacket designed by Jacques Fath, Paris, 1951.

An evening dress designed by Maggy Rouff, Paris, 1951.

These fiive spring hats by Schiaparelli were expected to be hits in the U.S.

An evening dress designed by Lafaurie, Paris, 1951.

A yellow wool coat designed by Alex Gres, Paris, 1951.

Designer Elsa Schiaparelli (left) tested out a hat at the 1951 spring fashion shows in Paris.

Designer Marcel Rochas in between his two fashion shows, Paris, 1951.

A polka dotted smock top over black skirt by Balenciaga, Paris, 1951.

A waistcoat with box-jacket outfit by designer Christian Dior, Paris 1951.

A black cocktail dress featuring a deep V neck, which almost went to the waist, by designer Jacques Griffe, Paris 1951.

This evening dress featured American plaid cotton apron over pleated organza dress by designer Jean Desses, Paris 1951.

A French model showed a small print dress with triple-flounced skirt and long sleeves by designer Jacques Fath, Paris 1951.

A French model showed off new spring hat design, Paris 1951.

These silly sunglasses featuring long blue eyelashes and small lenses were dreamed up by designer Schiaparelli, and brought a lighter note to the generally conservative spring showings in Paris, 1951.

(Photos © The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)


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